Denver Bar Association
September 2008
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Inactive License? You Can Still Help!

by Raj Chohan

 

It was billed as a “job fair” for emeritus attorneys. A roomful of highly distinguished lawyers traded war stories over coffee and bagels at the Colorado Bar Association on Tuesday, July 14. All shared a common set of characteristics: decades of experience, a desire to do some good and perhaps, too much time on their hands.

The group included judges, corporate attorneys, and litigators. Some retired years ago, while others only recently left active practice.

Stanton Rosenbaum of Isaacson Rosenbaum helped organize the gathering. He was one of the few there who hasn’t actually retired. After nearly five decades in practice, retirement is a notion he occasionally entertains, but ultimately dismisses. “I love the practice of law,” said Rosenbaum. “What am I going to do when I retire?”

A cadre of volunteer organizations offered good answers to Rosenbaum’s question. On hand were leaders from Colorado Legal Services, Metro Volunteer Lawyers, Legal Center for Persons with Disabilities and Older People, Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, and Colorado Lawyer’s Committee. All hoped to harness some of the talent in the room and direct it toward indigent clients in need of legal representation for problems ranging from landlord-tenant cases to simple divorces.

A rule recently enacted by the Colorado Supreme Court was the catalyst for this meeting of expertise and opportunity. Under Rule 223, retired attorneys who are in good standing in their respective states, but who don’t have an active license, may apply for a limited-practice license to provide pro bono services in Colorado. Rule 223 removed the hurdles of traditional licensing by not requiring CLE or annual fees. As long as attorneys engage in uncompensated legal work, Rule 223 keeps the red tape to a minimum. Out-of-state attorneys pay a one-time fee of $50. 

Shari Shink, center, founder and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, speaks to an attorney about pro bono opportunities and ways to make a difference.

The demand for pro bono services remains high. Estimates suggest that one in four people who qualify for low-income legal services are unable to obtain the help they need because there are not enough volunteer attorneys. Justice Gregory Hobbs of the Colorado Supreme Court calls it a “legal services crisis” that seems to be getting worse. Yet, there also is a huge untapped pool of legal talent. “Colorado is a wonderful retirement community,” said Justice Hobbs. “We are aware of people transitioning. Right now the effort is to get these volunteer attorneys signed up.”
Colorado Court of Appeals Judge JoAnn Vogt said, “We have this great unmet need, and we have this pool of talented and gifted lawyers who are looking for ways to use their legal abilities — put them to good use after they retire from the practice.”

While the legal work itself may be relatively uncomplicated, the impact on individual lives is profound. “People get involved in the civil legal system and find themselves in matters that affect their very basic needs, like housing, food, and sustenance,” said Judge Vogt. “These are not frivolous matters.”

One attraction for emeritus attorneys is the flexibility of practicing law on a volunteer basis without having to commit too much time. Many opportunities can be satisfied in a single morning or afternoon. Alternatively, volunteers seeking cases that are more complex will find plenty of available need. Fortunately, partnering mentor attorneys who have experience in specific practice areas are available. The cases require no particular expertise in the area of law being handled and most involve basic legal matters.

One of the common concerns is the question of insurance. Typically, inactive attorneys do not carry malpractice coverage. Many of the nonprofits courting retired attorneys provide insurance at no cost to volunteers.

Rosenbaum, a supporter of the emeritus attorney recruitment effort, contacted some of his retired friends in hopes of spreading the word. “It’s out there…the question is, can we let them know about it and get them interested in doing it?”

 

Interested in learning more about Rule 223 and available pro bono opportunities? Contact Kathleen Schoen, (303) 824-5305 or kschoen@cobar.org.


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